Rabbi R Yitzchak Eisenman recently wrote a “Short Vortessay that asked:

Many of us recall with horror the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School which occurred almost two years ago….

What ever happened to Sandy Hook Elementary School?
Is there a memorial somewhere in the school?
Are children still learning the ‘three R’s’ there?

No, there are no children learning at Sandy Hook; indeed, the building no longer exists.

Construction crews completely demolish former Sandy Hook Elementary School, 01/02/14 02:30 PM-By Michele Richinick MSNBC…


Compare this fact with what happened at the Shul in Har Nof where a week ago today we awoke to the news of the horrific massacre.

Mispallelim Return to Har Nof Shul to Daven Shacharis 24 Hours After Massacre, Wednesday November 19, 2014 6:40am, Matzva.com


Why the difference?
Why the need to return to the Shul the next day while in Sandy Hook there was a need to “completely demolish” the building?


Perhaps the reason is simple.
Often when terrible things occur, the ‘normative’ human reaction is to repress and even erase the incident from the collective consciousness of the public.
Who wants to face and deal with horrific and evil acts?

Our mesorah teaches us not only to never forget the past, no matter how unpleasant it is; indeed, quite the opposite, we are implored to embrace the memory of the tragedy.
Only by dealing with the tragedy head-on can we attempt to learn some of the lessons from the horror and attempt to rectify ourselves and the situation for the future.


We do not erase buildings as if they never existed.
We do not raze the sights of mayhem and murder; we embrace them as vehicles and as reminders for constant improvement and for our own spiritual betterment.


We also state unequivocally that evil and its pumps can and never will deter us from doing what we know is correct.
The Har Nof Shul is not only a place not to be avoided, it is a place to be embraced; a place of where holiness resides even more so now than before and it is a privilege to be able to daven and learn there.


The Rambam instructs us to learn from all and Chazal have taught us “Chochma (wisdom) B’GoyimTaamin” (You should believe that there is wisdom among the nations of the world).


There is no doubt that one can apply this instruction of our sages to the wisdom of the Spanish Philosopher George Santayana (December 16, 1863 – September 26, 1952) who so insightfully stated: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

To me, the question reminded me of the explanation Rabbi Ephraim Becher once gave at a Mussar Kallah to the question new students of Mussar often ask: What is the difference between Mussar and Self Help?

Self Help is working on becoming the person you wish you were. Mussar is working on becoming the person the Torah tells us Hashem made you to be.

And Rabbi Becker said one of the fundamental pragmatic differences that arise from this distinction. We do not want impediments, problems, difficulties in our lives. So Self Help teaches someone how to avoid them, how to put them behind you. They may repeat the urban legend about how the Chinese word for “challenge” — 危机 wēijī — is a combination of the symbols for “danger” and “opportunity”. But that’s only for when you’re in the maelstrom, or when one is unavoidable. (Wēijī means something more like danger + crisis-point. While “opportunity does involve the root “jī”, it is a specific kind of jī, jīhuì 机会.) The general approach is to teach you how to avoid those crisis.

In contrast, in the rabbinic lexicon such problems are called yisurim, growth exercises. (There is a collection of primary sources about yisurim here, on the more authoritative Aspaklaria.) The Torah does not teach us to only accept life’s challenges when unavoidable. We aspire to embrace yisurim — except in the rare case we could find another route to the same growth. And so on Yom Kippur, after confessing, we ask Hashem “ומה שחטאתי לפניך] מחק\מרק ברחמיך הרבים, אבל לא על ידי יסורים וחליים רעים] — and that which I sinned [before You] erase in Your great Mercy, but not through the means of yisurim or terrible diseases.”

But the default is to accept them as guidance from the Almighty. While the following words do not help us understand the death of righteous people, perhaps this quote from Hallel (Tehillim 118:17-23) can help us relate to our own crisis of surviving them:

לֹא אָמוּת כִּי אֶחְיֶה וַאֲסַפֵּר מַעֲשֵׂי יָ-הּ.
יַסֹּר יִסְּרַנִּי יָּ-הּ וְלַמָּוֶת לֹא נְתָנָנִי.
פִּתְחוּ לִי שַׁעֲרֵי צֶדֶק אָבֹא בָם אוֹדֶה יָהּ.
זֶה הַשַּׁעַר לַה׳ צַדִּיקִים יָבֹאוּ בוֹ.
אוֹדְךָ כִּי עֲנִיתָנִי וַתְּהִי לִי לִישׁוּעָה.
אֶבֶן מָאֲסוּ הַבּוֹנִים הָיְתָה לְרֹאשׁ פִּנָּה.
מֵאֵת ה׳ הָיְתָה זֹּאת הִיא נִפְלָאת בְּעֵינֵינוּ.

I shall not die, for I will live and speak of the Acts of G-d.
G-d will surely try me with yisurim, but he hasn’t given me over to death.
They [the yisurim] open for me the gates of righteousness, I shall enter them, I shall praise G-d!
This is the gate to Hashem, the righteous will enter it.
I will thank you for you answered me, and it was a salvation.
The stone which the builders derided became the cornerstone.
This is from Hashem, it is amazing in our eyes!

There is no glory in suffering, until we utilize the yisurim to enter the gates (c.f. Rashi vv. 1819), to carve our “stone” to be better fit to serve His Temple. We praise Hashem for only answering us after we pass through the gate and the stone is accepted into His service.

We do not put the event behind us and move on, we sanctify our response to it and move up!

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  1. shmuel says:

    >>Rather than only accepting challenges when unavoidable, we are taught to embrace yisurim only unless there is another route to the same growth.

    Something about that sentence structure makes my head hurt…

    Also, interesting reading of those verses from Tehillim; the pshat does not reflect that (Pischu li is a segue thematically linking salvation with the necessity of praise), I’m wondering if you have a source(s) that supports that interpretation.

    • micha says:

      You pushed me to rewrite that sentence, which then got me into a whole elaboration.

      Why do you think the existence of a segue is peshat? Personally, I thought that “ki anisani” and “even ma’asu habonim” discussed the same thing. Also, after the “pischu li” is “ki anisi vatehi li liyshua'” — we’re talking about the yisurim again. Either way, I added a link to Rashi, who says:

      “יסור יסרני ×™×”” – בגלות ושם נתכפרו כל עונותי ולמות לא נתנני
      “פתחו לי שערי צדק” – ואלו הן שערי צדק
  2. shmilu says:

    Without disagreeing with anything written here there is a simpler explanation.

    Mussar of this sort is for adults not for elementary school children Mussar of this sort is for people who choose to face it not for those who are placed there against their will by a school district.

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